Burundi: Armel Niyongere: A duty to protect the voiceless in conflict-ridden Burundi, even in exile

December 15, 2016

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Armel Niyongere loves the law. He became a lawyer because he cannot bear injustice. Living in war-torn Burundi were human rights violations occur on a daily basis, he decided to defend the voiceless victims. But this noble choice has a price: exile.

“Living outside the country with my family is difficult,” he said. “I see that they are in danger, that I am in danger.”

Harassed and threatened by the Burundian Government that also issued an international arrest warrant against him, Mr. Niyongere was forced to leave his home country in 2015 – and to take his family with him. Mr. Niyongere was among those who said it was unconstitutional for Pierre Nkurunziza to run for a third presidential term in April 2015. The candidacy announcement sparked weeks of widespread demonstrations, a failed coup attempt, and the arrest of hundreds of demonstrators framed as “terrorists”.

This permanent state of violence, with killings and injury of protesters and police officers having become routine, takes place in a country that had already suffered two ethnically-based genocides and a 12-year civil war that had left some 300,000 dead. It raises concern over another looming civil war and humanitarian crisis fuelled by propaganda aimed at dividing the country along ethnic lines.

In this unrest, the anti-torture organization Mr. Niyongere heads, Action des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture (ACAT Burundi), was quickly outlawed, as were many other civil-society organizations that had been monitoring the human rights situation in Burundi. Its funding was frozen, leaving it incapable of any action from inside the country.



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